In Kalasin, on Saturday the 19th of May, we attended the traditional welcome ceremony conducted for visitors. The ceremony was particularly momentous due to our group being the first western visitors to come to the village in which we’re staying and be a part of the ceremony. It was overwhelming to be the subject of such attention, and to realize the extent to which our visit is an honor to the community. Receiving visitors in the U.S. is enjoyable and a compliment to both one’s self and one’s home, but in Thai culture and this relatively small community, hosting visitors holds far greater social significance.
Our arrival in Kalasin was the first time that many of us felt that we were in a completely different culture with different values and experiences. Arriving at the village was overwhelming. Before the trip we had been warned that our presence would attract attention but we didn’t know what that meant until arriving. We were greeted by the entire village waiting for us with fresh flower necklaces and were quickly rushed to the center of the crowd for the welcoming ceremony.
The ceremony itself consisted of a man acting as a monk representative performing Buddhist incantations in Pali, an ancient language reserved for use in religious ceremonies. A central component of the ceremony was a white string passed around the most inner circle which we grasped between our thumbs. Even without great depth of knowledge of the significance of each component, we felt the emotional and spiritual significance of the process deeply.
After the incantations and group ceremony had finished, all the villagers were given a bundle of white strings to walk around and tie onto our wrists to symbolize blessings and welcoming us to Thailand. Each villager had their own style of giving a blessing. Some were serious, some shy, some were even silly and joking around with each other. Even with the formality of the ceremony, we were met with an introduction to the unwavering kindness of Thai people.